The convoy returning from Da Nang in the afternoon meant mail call would be soon. I lived for Jenny’s letters, and she rarely missed a day without writing. Top hurried through the names, and I put my mail in a pocket. He announced, “There will be a briefing in the club for all section heads . . . NOW.”
This didn’t sound good. The club was a small “HARDBACK” (Plywood hooch) and was lit inside with one dim light bulb. We all waited (20 of us) in anticipation of the meeting to start and suddenly Top barked, “ATTENTION!” It was a Marine Captain with a commanding voice, “As you were” and we all sat down.
He introduced himself as Captain Cavagnol, “I am the new Commanding Officer of Kilo Battery.” He reviewed his credentials: over two years in country, six months as an FO (Forward Observeer), 15 weeks of Vietnamese language school and a year working in an ARVN Ranger battalion teaching them FO duties. He understood and spoke fluent Vietnamese and had a passion to better their plight.
“The morale of my troops is a top priority,” and he covered three issues that were a constant in this endeavor. The first was Mail; he turned to Top and said, “We will get our mail in a timely fashion, and you will make it happen.” I gave a big sigh of relief; now there was someone in charge, and I knew Top would follow through.
“Where is Sergeant Kysor?” I stood at attention, “Here Sir!” He put me at ease and commenced to describe the difficulties of preparing three hot meals a day. “Kysor needs everyone’s support,” and he demanded that all section heads lend a hand if he needs something. Turning back to me he said, “I have high expectations for this mess hall; if you need something, ask for it.” I started to answer with the customary Yes Sir, but he waved me off saying, “I know you will.”
Cavagnol then challenged the Battery Gunny with providing proper living quarters and showers. He understood it would take time but gave the Gunny a deadline, “Three months and all these sandbag hooches will be torn down.”
The briefing ended as abruptly as it had started, and we were all put on notice. There was a new sheriff in town . . . things were going to be different. The majority of the Marines in Kilo battery had rotated to CONUS, and other short timers would be gone in a few weeks.
Mail, Three Hot Meals a day and Proper Living Quarters were Cavagnol’s recipe for good morale. It was also significant to me that he did not use my nickname (Ptomaine).